In a close contest at Cougar Palace Tuesday night between the last two Region IX champions with nearly every statistical category being even, the No. 14 Casper College Thunderbirds, who won regionals last spring, got two free throws from Jalen Harris with 11.1 seconds to play to earn an 88-86 win over Western Nebraska Community College.
It was a game that neither team wanted to lose as both teams played with plenty of heart and energy. Both teams shot 44 percent from the field, both teams made nine 3-pointers, and both teams made 17 free throws. The two squads also each had 42 rebounds and 21 personal fouls.
WNCC head coach Cory Fehringer said his team competed tonight just coming up inches short of a game-winning shot.
“We are proud of our team. We are suffering tough losses, and learning valuable lessons,” he said. “These boys continue to compete and grow.”
The loss stings a little, but the heart and hustle the players showed on the court shows a lot about the talent of the team.
“We’d like to be winning of course, but sometimes it’s more important to recognize what creates losing and how to control winning,” Fehringer said. “We need to keep believing and keep growing.”
WNCC started the contest with plenty of energy, rolling to a 16-8 advantage on a Kenny Strawbridge trey. Casper came back to grab a 20-18 lead only to watch WNCC jump to a 30-22 lead. Casper went on a 9-0 run to lead 31-30, which was short-lived as WNCC went back in front 36-32.
The play went back and forth several times as Casper led 39-36. WNCC came within a point of taking the lead, the last time at 46-45 before Casper held a 48-45 halftime lead.
WNCC started the second half on a 10-0 run for a 55-48 lead. WNCC stayed in the lead with a 67-63 lead before Casper went in front 71-67. WNCC went on a 7-0 run behind James Felton six points for a 74-71 lead.
Casper led 80-76 with five minutes to play only to watch WNCC take an 82-80 lead on a Jordan Smith 3-pointer with 3:10 to play. WNCC led 85-82 on a Kalen Williams trey with under two minutes to play.
Casper went up 86-85 with 50.2 seconds to play on two free throws by Harris. Elie Cadet knotted the score at 86 with one of two free throws. That was when Harris hit two free throws with 11.1 seconds to play and then Casper held on for the win.
Both teams had a player score 25 points in the contest. Harris scored 25 for Casper on 10 of 13 shooting from the free throw line. Teddy Allen had 25 points for the Cougars with four treys.
WNCC also got 18 points from James Felton and 13 points from Kalen Williams.
Casper had four more players in double figures. Traizon Byrd tallied 13, while Donavan Freeman had 12. Eric Jamerman had 11 points, while Philip Pepple had a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Kenny Strawbridge pulled down 11 rebounds for the Cougars, while Jordan Smith had eight assists.
WNCC will be back in action Friday and Saturday when they host the Cougar Classic. WNCC will face Williston State College on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and then Rexburg United on Saturday at 4 p.m. Northeastern Junior College will play the other men’s contest over the weekend.
Casper 48 40 – 88
WNCC 45 41 – 86
Jarred Rosser 8, Conner McCracken 2, Jordan Smith 7, Kalen Williams 13, James Felton 18, Kenny Strawbridge 6, Elie Cadet 7, Teddy Allen 25.
Jalen Harris 25, Donavan Freeman 12, Eric Jamerman 11, Esaiah Banks 8, Dathan Satchell 2, Tavion Robinson 1, Philip Pepple 11, Traizon Byrd 13, Bright Iheanachor 5.